Saturday, 22 December 2012

The comeback of the airline hotel?

I hope there's some more legroom than in their aircraft!

I have read that Barcelona-based airline Vueling has set up a joint-venture with Hoteles Catalonia in order to launch Vueling-themed hotels for its travelers. These hotels will be marketed under the "Vueling by HC" brand. The first hotel and test-bed for this concept will be launched in central Barcelona shortly and its design is going to be inspired in the fresh casual-looking style sported by the airline.

It is an interesting move, because, setting aside Easyhotel, which is part of the much broader Easygroup brand portfolio, airline hotels seemed to have fallen out of fashion in the last two decades...

It was not always like this, there was a time when every self-respecting flag carrier used to run its own hotel chain. In fact some of today's international hotel chains have been historically linked to airlines, this is the case of Swissotel (originally a joint-venture between Swissair and Nestlé), of Golden Tulip (linked to KLM), of Radisson (SAS), although most of these airlines withdrew from the hotel business at some point in the last decade, either forced by their financial situation or for strategic reasons.

Sabena was one of the airlines with the largest hotel networks, often providing the top accommodation options in the African capitals covered by its network. In this picture, the Memling Hotel, originally a Sabena hotel, in 1970s Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (called Zaire at the time)

By the way, Sabena's Kigali hotel became famous after becoming a refugee shelter during the Rwandan genocide, in the events that were later depicted in the film Hotel Rwanda.

If we look back a few decades, to the early days of commercial aviation, when international hotel brands where not as widespread as they are now it possibly made lots of sense to offer a complete package to your regular customers (mostly businessmen and affluent people in those times) that might wish to avoid being exposed to variable service standards depending on the destination.

As air travel becomes more commoditized it might make sense to go back the provision of comprehensive travel experiences though, and who best positioned that the airline, that is often the first gateway to travel bookings...I just hope that the size of rooms and beds is not proportional to the seat pitch on their aircraft!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Analyzing Turkish Airlines route network

 Turkish Airlines is surprising us with new route announcements pretty much on a weekly basis: they are already the airline covering the largest number of destinations in the World and plan to increase this number to 300 by 2015...

Istanbul is, in a way, recovering its traditional role as a connector between East and West, a city that, quite literally, links different continents.

This is why I read with interest this Anna Aero report detailing, among other things, the traffic break-down on some of Turkish Airlines main European routes, both by type (origin and destination versus connecting) and by onward destinations of connecting passengers.

There are two things that I found particularly interesting:

1) Connecting traffic, although relatively high on all routes, as it is the norm for a global super-connector sucha s THY, was not nearly the levels where I would have expected it to be. On most routes there is roughly a 50-50%, 55%-45% split between O&D and connecting traffic, that proves that Istanbul and Turkey are in themselves a particularly large air travel market, a strong point in favour of Turkish Airlines in its quest for global leadership (wondering what are the figures for the Gulf hubs, but I have the feeling that is a lot less).

2) Some airports appear repeatedly among the main onward destinations of European traffic connecitng at Istanbul, there are three that stand out: BEY (Beirut), IKA (Teheran) and GYD (Bakú). Which means that Istanbul is a sort of World gateway for these points.

The case of Teheran might be explained by the political situation, which makes it unlikely that most international airlines will return to the country anytime soon.

In the case of Bakú, the situation might change a bit in the near future if Azerbaijan Airlines' expansion plans finally materialize (they even have a couple of Dreamliners on order).

But what happens with Beirut? I guess someone at MEA should be taking notes of this looks like the market is there!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Russian airlines update

 Easyjet, soon in Russia, but not without some business model changes

The first (and so far, pretty much, only) attempt to establish domestic low cost airlines in Russia failed last year when Avianova and Sky Express went bankrupt. What you possibly didn't know is that the latter was folded into Kuban Airlines (despite Russia's and, previously, Soviet Union's historical links with the Caribbean island, the airline's name has nothing to do with Cuba, it refers to the Kuban region of Southern Russia instead!)...well, Kuban airlines now ceases operations too. Not that it was a major player, but with a fleet of only seven aircraft it fell short of new regulatory requirements that put minimum fleet size at eight aircraft.

Regulation is actually one of the factors that has been hampering the development of a low cost airline industry in Russia (for a more detailed analysis see this article, it's nearly two years old, but  still valid).

Among the airline regulations that are somehow unique to Russia is the requirement that all airline tickets must be refundable. Although there is currently a project to make this requirement more flexible, it is estimated that  Russian airlines lose 8% of income due to last minute cancellations, something that other travelers end up paying for in higher fares (an estimation outs this "surcharge" at 22.7B. rubles per year, or in excess of $730M.).

This is something that Easyjet has had to comply with as it prepares to start flights to Russia (after winning a pitched battle against Virgin Atlantic for the right to operate this route following BMI's, the only British operator flying to Russia, acquisition by British Airways). Russia will be the only country in its network where the low cost carrier will sell refundable tickets.

Regulatory and operational complexity is not something low cost carriers like (even if Easyjet or Air Berlin are ready to comply in order to get access to a large non-saturated market), however I am trying to figure out, for a second, Ryanair negotiating exemptions with the Russian regulator and I have got the feeling that a truly developed low cost air travel market is still some way off in Russia...!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Planespotting at London City Airport

Today was a day of aviation firsts for me: first time at London City Airport and first time flying the Embraer E-190...and I give excellent marks to both!

London City airport is, obviously quite different from the other airports serving the London area, like an exclusive boutique compared to a mainstream retailer.

But I was also positively surprised as an aviation enthusiast an planespotter, since it is possible to enjoy great views of the runway from the waiting area of the terminal, and you can see some aircraft types that you seldom see at other London airports, such as the Avro RJ85s and several models of Embraer's E-jets.

Here are some pictures that I took while waiting to board my flight...I took some more interesting pictures with my camera (including one of the unique British Airways transatlantic business-only Airbus A318 and I expect to post them to my Instagram account in the near future).

There were actually three Swiss jumbolinos in a line, waiting to take-off...but only tow fit into the frame!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Vueling's two frequent flier programmes: which one's best?

I am about to book a flight with Vueling and I got to the point where I need to decide which frequent flier programme do I wish to use: Vueling Punto or Iberia Plus?

It seems that, although, both Iberia Plus and BA's Executive Club use the same "currency", Avios, and they both belong to IAG, their frequent flier programmes, unlike, for example, Air France-KLM's Flying Blue, are still run separately.

I am a Vueling Punto member, although I have seldom used it, but I gave up with Iberia Plus and switched to British Airways' Executive Club it seems that for me the best option is to stick with Vueling Punto but I have made myself the following question:

Are there any specific advantages of being on Vueling Punto instead of being on Iberia Plus? I mean, if Iberia Plus lets you collect avios both on Vueling AND on other Oneworld airlines whereas the former only lets you collect miles on Vueling. What is the point of holding the Vueling Punto? or maybe the "Exchange rate" between punto and Avios is not that favourable?

Any frequent flier programme experts in the room?

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Air Lituanica, the new Lithuanian flag carrier: an answer to Vilnius connectivity problem?

While I recently wondered whether Vilnius, Lithuania, was still the European capital with the worst air connections some people where at work to prove me wrong...because Vilnius (and Lithuania) may soon have a new flag carrier: airLituanica (I am actually not sure whether I should write it like this, "airBaltic-style" in small caps, or as two words, "Air Lituanica", as the airline name appears written both ways throughout the presentation)

One interesting aspect of this new airline project for Lithuania is that there is a whole presentation about the project on slideshare (with date as of September 2012), that you can see here (part of it is in Lithuanian, a language that I, unfortunately, do not master, but there is also a section in English)

Air Lituanica pristatymas from Vilniaus miesto savivaldybė / Vilnius City Municipality

It looks like the new Lithuanian airline will start operating at some point in early 2013 with an initial fleet of two Embraer E-175 (to be increased to 4 in 2015) and routes to Amsterdam, London Gatwick, Brussels, Moscow Vnukovo and Kiev, in addition to the domestic destination of Palanga, on the Baltic coast. This network would later be expanded to include cities such as Stockholm and Munich and more.

(By the way: given that it is clearly stated that the fleet is going to be exclusively made of Embraers E-175s it would add credibility if future presentations would be illustrated with pictures of this aircraft type, rather than a mix of Boeing 737s and Airbus A320 that can be found on this one!)

The business model is defined as "low cost plus" which I assume to be another name for a "hybrid carrier", of the sort of Vueling or Air Berlin.

My first thoughts when reading about the project is that it is a going to be an easy ride, with a relatively small home market and airBaltic, Wizz Air and Ryanair with well-established networks in the region. Plus the fact that airLituanica is being kick-started by the city of Vilnius makes me, inevitably, think of Spanair, another airline that was supported from public institutions with the idea of fulfilling a "strategic" connectivity role for the city it served.

From the information found in the presentation above, it looks like the new carrier has got some very experienced advisors, though, such as London-based Aviation Economics, so we'll give it a vote of confidence after all...while we wait and see whether it is able to carve out a niche market for itself in this difficult market.